PLEASANTVILLE — Three languages were used Saturday afternoon — four, if you count “Ave Maria” being sung in Latin — as Johnny Builes and Jennifer Zumot, of Egg Harbor Township, were the first couple to be wed in the Maronite rite at Our Lady Star of the East Church.

The former St. Peter Church became Our Lady Star of the East in May to serve about 50 families in southern New Jersey that practice the Maronite rite, said the pastor, the Rev. Elie Saade. The Mass is performed in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, and most followers are from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

About 200 people packed the church Saturday afternoon, sitting in pews decorated in white tulle and ribbon.

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Many in the church applauded and some ululated — or emitted short bursts of hooting — as the 26-year-old Zumot walked up a white carpet strewn with flower petals.

Four priests celebrated the wedding, which was conducted in English, but was accompanied by music in Arabic and Bible readings in English, Arabic and Spanish, the latter out of respect for the 28-year-old Builes’ heritage. Saade wore red vestments, the traditional color for festivities in the Maronite rite.

The success of marriage relies on unity and togetherness, Saade told the couple in a short homily.

“There cannot be ‘you’ and ‘me’ between husbands and wives, but ‘we,’” Saade said. “Marriage is not a covenant between two people, it is a covenant with God.”

In addition to taking traditional marriage vows, the bride and groom placed their hands on a Bible adorned with a cross and promised before God, the altar and the witnesses that they will remain true to the covenant for life.

The priests placed small gold-colored crowns on the bride’s and groom’s heads as they received another blessing. The crowns come from a Scriptural reference to a bride and groom being king and queen, and for Jesus being king with the church as his bride, Saade said later.

After exchanging rings and lighting a unity candle, Builes and Zumot walked down the aisle as husband and wife. Guests lined up to receive them in the foyer, and young men handed out chocolates as a symbol of hope for a sweet married life.

The Maronite rite is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church but answers to Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Epochy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, N.Y., rather than to the local bishop, said Peter Feuerherd, spokesman for the Diocese of Camden. Our Lady Star of the East is the only Maronite mission in southern New Jersey.

St. Maron, who lived from 350 to 410 A.D., is the founder of the Maronite rite, Saade said. Like other ethnic groups in the Catholic church, it has special reverence for certain saints. The Maronite rite has some cultural differences, but shares the same faith as other Catholics.

Although most followers speak Arabic, the Mass is said in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, Saade said. 

Although he also celebrates Mass according to the Latin rite, Saade said the Maronite Mass is more mystical because the Aramaic language gives them a closer connection to Jesus, especially during the consecration of the host.

“You feel a deep spirituality,” Saade said. “It’s exactly the same words Our Lord said,” to his disciples at the Last Supper.

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